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‘He was a champion of Indigenous artists’: Community mourns First Nations musician

Multi-award-winning First Nations musician Vince Fontaine dead at 62

Family, friends and the music industry in Manitoba are in mourning after multi-award-winning First Nations musician Vince Fontaine died suddenly this week.

Nahanni Fontaine says her uncle’s unexpected death in Winnipeg has been devastating for the family and the community.

“Any death is difficult, but I think there is something to be said when a death is so sudden, and you don’t really get an opportunity to say goodbye,” she said.

Fontaine, who is an NDP member of the Manitoba legislative assembly, said her 62-year-old uncle from the Sagkeeng First Nation died Tuesday from a heart attack.

“It’s very hard to wrap your head around that all of a sudden. One minute he was here and the next he is gone,” she said Wednesday.

Fontaine first gained success in the music industry in 1995 as a guitarist of the roots-rock group Eagle & Hawk. He co-founded the band with former Canadian Football League all-star Troy Westwood. The group would eventually become one of the country’s most celebrated and internationally-touring Indigenous bands, says Fontaine’s biography.

In its decades-long history, the band garnered dozens of major music awards nominations and wins, including a Juno in 2002 and a western Canadian Music Award.

Eagle & Hawk’s performances included two Canada Day shows on Parliament Hill, two appearances at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and one at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. The band toured Europe a dozen times.

Fontaine expanded his musical reach with a new act in 2011 when he created the folk-pop group Indian City, which brought together a collective of musicians and showcased rich and vibrant Indigenous cultures.

“He was a champion of Indigenous artists and everything that Indigenous artists have to offer to the industry and to Canada,” said Nahanni Fontaine.

— The Canadian Press